Schizophrenia, Shamans and delusions. The evidence offered was that they claimed that they could see, talk with spirits, and even use them to heal people. However, since shamans sometimes actually did seem to effect cures, they deserved more study if it was done from a psychological perspective. Religious delusions. Walter Cline was a quiet dissenter regarding this purely psychological view of shamans.
Shaman, religious, spirits
Such a perception of shamans was a heritage of Western prejudices stretching back centuries to the Inquisition’s ridicule and persecution of shamans, then in Europe called “witches,” which they are still called in northern Finland. The Inquisition’s methods of torture and execution were gradually replaced by the more subtle pressures of secularism that accompanied the rise of science during the Age of “Enlightenment” in the eighteenth century. Religious delusions but this is not entirely true.
In that century one of the last vestiges of European shamanism, visualization methods, still survived to some degree in folk medicine, known as “journeys of the soul.” However, eighteenth-century academicians declared that there was no scientific proof of the existence of the soul. Therefore, the emerging medical establishment decreed that visualization for healing had to be abandoned on those grounds.
The “heresy” of visualized travel did not return to European medicine until Freud in the late nineteenth century asked a patient to “imagine” himself in a train going through the countryside and to describe what he saw.
The academic reluctance to take seriously souls, spirits, and shamans continues to the present time. Not having actually tried shamanic methods themselves, even sympathetic anthropologists have tended to view shamanism not in terms of first-hand knowledge but within the framework of Western preconceptions or paradigms.
Although perhaps no longer ethnocentric, most of these scholars still tended to see shamans through the lens of cognicentrism, which is a tendency to judge the validity of other people’s experiences in altered states of consciousness without having experienced those states oneself.
Without adequate participant observation, such scholars were liable to inconclusively put shamanism into currently fashionable theoretical pigeonholes. While “participant observation” was given lip service in anthropology as a desired field method to arrive at an accurate understanding of native behavior and practices, no anthropologist was known to have attempted it in the case of shamanism prior to the latter half of the twentieth century.
At the same time, the shamans’ feats of healing and unbelievable journeys to other worlds both fascinated and perplexed Western scholars. The armchair French theorist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl proposed in his early twentieth-century book Les functions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures that “native” accounts of their incredible experiences were indeed genuine, but that such peoples were prisoners of a prerational primitive mind.
That this opinion has not entirely disappeared is evidenced by the more recent book of another influential armchair writer, Julian Jaynes, who theorized at length about the consciousness of preagricultural peoples without investigating the consciousness of “preagricultural” peoples, hunters and gatherers, who still existed on the planet.
Lévy-Bruhl’s opinion about tribal peoples was perhaps relatively charitable compared to those that were subsequently expressed for decades in the twentieth century by much of the psychoanalytic community, where experiences tended to be viewed as “hallucinations” and the they themselves as actively psychotic or psychotics “in partial remission.
Indeed, Weston La Barre, an anthropologist heavily influenced by Freudian psychoanalytic theory, argued that virtually all mystical experiences, including those of shamanism, were manifestations of neurosis or psychosis.